Casino gambling is a fun and enjoyable hobby, but as with any form of gambling it is also something that can turn into a negative experience accompanied by anxiety, depression and decreased quality of life.
While some gambling sites rather brazenly exploit gambling addicts, there are also more responsible sites available. Åland-based Paf Casino does for instance insure their Swedish, Finnish and Estonian members to make sure that free therapy is available for members that find themselves struggling with gambling addiction. The insurance policy covers the cost of counseling for members who are diagnosed as gambling addicts by a registered psychologist, registered nurse or social worker. The policy will pay up to €2 300 per insured for counseling with a registered psychologist, registered nurse or social worker. There is no deductible.
Another example of a gambling site online that offer tools aimed to aid responsible gambling is SverigeCasino.com, an online casino chiefly targeting Swedish casino gamblers. This site features a lot of information about problem gambling, and also self tests for gamblers and suggestions about how to proceed if you find yourself engaging in problematic gambling. Unlike many other gambling sites, SverigeCasino makes it really easy to close your account with them to prevent further problematic gambling. They also have support personal available for those who need to discuss their gambling. In addition to this, the site sports plenty of links and contact information to support groups for gambling addicts as well as to free state-run support programs for gamblers.
Gambling addiction and your brain
Why some people develop gambling addiction remains unknown, and it is a complex questions without any straight forward and simple answers. All gamblers are individuals and one person’s problematic gambling can have very different roots and causes than the problematic gambling carried out by someone else.
With that said, recent scientific research regarding the human brain has unveiled some fascinating pieces of information that might help us understand gambling addiction and other forms of problematic gambling better.
Located within the brain is a reward central which is connected to other parts of the brain, including areas that help us move, remember, experience pleasure and stay motivated. Certain activities will cause the reward central to send out dopamine, a chemical compound that makes us feel happy and content.
Some chemical drugs, such as cocain and amphetamines, will cause the reward system to disperse much more dopamine than normally – sometimes up to ten times the normal amount. While this will make a person feel very good as long as the high lasts, it will also – at least temporary – damage the brain’s ability to make the person feel good without the drugs. When this type of drug is used frequently, the brain will adjust by producing less dopamine, send out less dopamine and also show a diminished reaction to dopamine. Gradually, the person will develop tolerance and need larger and larger amounts of the drug to achieve the same high. When the brain has gotten used to the drug, withdrawal symptoms will occur if the brain is starved off the drug.
Interestingly, continuous use of drugs such as cocaine or amphetamines will also weaken the connections that run between the reward center of the brain and the prefrontal cortex. The prefrontal cortex is a part of the brain that will help us fight our initial impulses. When you’re in a situation where your first impulse is to hit someone, eat candy right off the store shelf or kiss your crazy ex but you decide against doing these things because they would ultimately not be good for you, this is your prefrontal cortex kicking in and saving your from acting on impulse. As you can see, weakening the connections to your prefrontal cortex is probably not something that you want to do – at least not if you wish to stay capable of making decisions that serves you well in the long run.
So, why is this relevant to gambling addiction? Because recent studies have shown that in a person that is addicted to gambling, the brain reacts to gambling pretty much as it would react to cocain or amphetamines. This does not only mean that the brain will adjust and need more and more gambling to get the same high as before, but also that we will see the same destruction of connections between the reward center and the prefrontal cortex. To put it simple: the more the gambling addict gambles, the less capable of fighting impulses he or she will become.
So, the addicted gambler is hit with a double whammy. The brain is producing less dopamine, excreting less dopamine and responding less to dopamine than before, while at the same time the connections to the prefrontal cortex are getting weaker, making it difficult for the gambler to refrain from following the impulse to gamble.
While someone addicted to cocain would up the dose to get the same high as before, someone addicted to gambling is likely to increase the size of the wagers. Once upon a time, a €5 bet would give them a rush. Now, when they are deep into their addiction, they are betting €500 or more and still barely get the same rush as before. And even when they know that this is destroying their economy and causing serious problems for people around them, the weak connections to their prefrontal cortex makes it difficult for them to fight the impulse to just keep on betting.
On a related note, patients suffering from Parkinson’s disease are statistically more likely to become gambling addicts. This is very interesting, since the characteristic symptoms of Parkinson’s disease is caused by an increased death rate of dopamine-generating cells in the substantia nigra (a region of the midbrain), which in turn causes dopamine deficiency.
Clearly, more research is needed in this field if we ever want to understand the complicated and complex mechanisms behind gambling addiction and other forms of problematic gambling.